February 11, 2019

The Psychological Trap of Freelancing by Charlotte Cowles

Sent by Jonathan Stark on February 13th, 2019

Over the weekend, a bunch of people emailed an article from the New York Magazine to me. The article was “The Psychological Trap of Freelancing” by Charlotte Cowles. 

Despite the title, the article wasn’t really about freelancing, per se... it was really about the negative emotional effects of selling your time. Central to the article was new research that studied the differences between people who bill by the hour and those who don’t. 

Here’s a representative quote:

New research explains the psychology behind my state of mind: People who attach dollar signs to their time — or “value time like money” — tend to be overwhelmingly less happy than those who don’t, because their nonworking hours suddenly seem less important. “Free” time gets tainted with guilt because there’s a cost associated with it.

I was particularly excited about this article because of the research angle. I’ve believed for more than a decade that hourly billing is nuts, by my evidence was purely anecdotal. The possibility that there was scientific research to support my belief really got my gears turning.

I read the research paper and I liked what I saw. It was is only nine pages long but it referenced 31 other papers and articles. This got me even more excited because this one paper could be the doorway to an entirely new network of super interesting people from a completely different world (i.e., science and academia) with whom I likely have at least one thing in common (i.e., a sneaking suspicion that selling your life away in one hour chunks is a Very Bad Thing™).

My next thought was:

I have to interview the people who wrote this paper!

Fortunately, the email addresses of the authors were listed on the cover page. I sent them a short email applauding their work and asking if they might have time for a short phone interview for my Ditching Hourly podcast.

They both got back to me within hours. One was booked solid with classes but the other had some time, so we’re going to chat next week. Stay tuned for what I’m sure will be an interesting episode :-)

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